Oct 29, 2011

Transcript of Press Conference – Commonwealth & Parliamentary Offices, Sydney

Subjects:      Qantas Dispute

ALBANESE:             The Government is extremely concerned for the future of Qantas, its workforce and also the travelling public.  We will at all times be making sure that the travelling public’s interests are upheld in this.

We are very concerned about Qantas’ actions of which we were notified only mid afternoon.  In light of Qantas’ announcement today regarding the grounding of its fleet, the Government is making an urgent application to Fair Work Australia under Section 424 of the Fair Work Act to terminate all industrial action at Qantas.  We will be seeking an urgent hearing of that application by Fair Work Australia.

The provisions are there for mandatory conciliation.  This will be aimed at both actions by unions and by Qantas management.

The Government will be releasing a written statement about the Fair Work Australia application later this evening.

Can I just indicate that Qantas advised the Government mid afternoon of this action.  I had a discussion was the CEO of Qantas Alan Joyce after 2pm this afternoon after his office had advised my office.  I then rang him.  He returned my call.  He indicated that the Qantas board had met this morning and had made this decision to lock out the workforce from Monday evening at 8pm and had made a further decision that under those circumstances they would ground the airline from 5pm this afternoon.

Can I indicate that that was the first time the Government had been given notification of this action.  At no stage in the discussions that have taken place with Qantas and relevant unions had either of the parties to this dispute asked for Government intervention.  The Government has attempted to facilitate discussions between the parties and remains of the view that with a little bit of commonsense, and an acknowledgement that there is a common interest between management and employees, solutions can be found that are in interests of Qantas’ long term future and those of its workforce.

JOURNALIST:         Inaudible

ALBANESE:             We certainly have and there has been a range of discussions taking place.  The Government has played a role in facilitating those discussions.  However industrial relations; of course we moved some time ago from centralised wage fixing to a situation whereby employers and employees engage in direct discussions.

Certainly the Government is of the view that this should have been resolved before now.  The Government has called on both sides to this dispute to negotiate in good faith and to get a resolution.

The action of Qantas management today in making this decision will have an impact, of course, on the Qantas brand; it will also have an impact on Qantas customers.  Can I indicate also that since 5pm I have had a discussion with Mr John Borghetti from Virgin Australia.  Mr Borghetti has indicated that Virgin will do what they can to put on extra flights.  We have also indicated that my Department has established a taskforce to do what it can to ensure that passengers can be accommodated as best be possible under the circumstances.

This is quite extraordinary action for Qantas management to take.  I find it particularly extraordinary that one day after their Annual General Meeting at which they’re accountable to all their shareholders they would make this decision.

The fact that they argue that this was a decision made by the board this morning to ground the airline by 5pm – I’ll leave it to those that know something about the aviation industry to deliberate on whether they think that decision was made this morning or whether there’s been some planning prior to this morning.

JOURNALIST:         Inaudible

ALBANESE:             I’m extremely disappointed.  What’s more, I indicated very clearly to My Joyce that I was disturbed by the fact that we’ve had a number of discussions and at no stage has Mr Joyce indicated to me that this was an action under consideration.

The first that it was indicated to the Government, as I’ve said, was after 2pm today, which is less than three hours notice of the ground of Australia’s national carrier.  That is an extraordinary action to take.

JOURNALISTS:      Inaudible

ALBANESE:             It’s about passengers and the travelling public.  We’re very concerned that people of course wouldn’t have had any notice of this occurring.  This is on a Saturday on which there aren’t as many flights scheduled but of course non-regularly flyers would tend to travel more on weekends than the business traffic.  So it’s a real concern that people will be inconvenienced and I certainly indicated to Mr Joyce my concern about the inconvenience for the travelling people that this decision by Qantas would result in.

JOURNALISTS:      Inaudible

ALBANESE:             I certainly questioned the decision.  He [Mr Joyce] indicated to me that the decision had been made and that it was a fait accompli.

JOURNALISTS:      Inaudible

ALBANESE:             If that’s the case then it’s an extraordinary way to go about it.  At no stage had Qantas either publicly or in private, asked for Government intervention into this dispute.

JOURNALIST:         You talked about the CEO saying the decision was made this morning and obviously there’s speculation that to ground an airline might require a degree of pre-planning. Which do you believe is the case?

ALBANESE:             Well I think people will make their own judgement on it.  Suffice it to say that I think the timing of the board meeting, the day after an annual general meeting and the timely way in which the decisions had been made, people – provisions have to be made for an action such as this. Qantas are of course not grounding JetStar, Qantaslink and other parts of their operations as Mr Joyce has indicated.  They have also indicated that they will be putting in place measures to minimise disruption to the travelling public which certainly, I call on them to ensure that is the case.

But there is no doubt that there will be a disruption to the travelling public as a result of this decision by Qantas management (inaudible) made on a Saturday morning with notice to the Government mid afternoon, one day after their annual general meeting.

JOURNALIST:         How soon will the Government be able to take this to Fair Work Australia.

ALBANESE:             We have been as a Government in discussions this afternoon in the last couple of hours and we are preparing that. Minister Evans will be making a written statement as soon as the timing of that is finalised but we’re doing it as certainly as a matter of urgency and I know that I’ll leave the details of that, in terms of the discussion, to Minister Evans. Certainly there have been a number of discussions this afternoon between ministers, I spoke to the Prime Minister and there were two meetings, as in phone meetings, between ministers because obviously we weren’t all in the one place given that CHOGM is being held also, that is also a factor that the Government is putting consideration into, ensuring that those issues are dealt with as well.

JOURNALIST:         In terms of – I mean this dispute is not new, it’s been going on for ages and it’s a bit of a ‘he said, she said’ thing constantly. What is going to change?

ALBANESE:             What’s going to change is that Fair Work Australia are receiving an application for intervention and I think that, I would hope that the parties to the dispute act like adults and acknowledge that there’s a common interest here between Qantas management and its employees.

JOURNALIST:         That hasn’t necessarily happened up until now, what makes you think that that will change?

ALBANESE: Well the fact is that on a number of occasions and people – there has been press speculation to this effect, a resolution between at least for some of the dispute, has been close. That was indicated earlier this week in the form of statements made by Qantas and the Transport Workers Union for example. So that the parties are not as far apart as some of their rhetoric would suggest on a range of issues. In terms of industrial action, it should be acknowledged that the pilots’ industrial action up to this point consists of pilots not wearing their hats and pilots making announcements on Qantas planes so in terms of their actions, the fact that Qantas have chosen this step which is a very hard action for them to take, I think Qantas are going to have to justify their actions just as the trade unions have to justify actions that they take. What we say is that both sides should operate in a way which is mature, which acknowledges that there’s a common interest here and they should get down to the point whereby they get this done. The fact is that no one in the media was speculating that this would occur. If they did, I missed it. And Qantas in terms of its management were not expecting – had not indicated that they wanted the Government to intervene, nor had the unions asked the Government to intervene, either publicly or privately, so it is extraordinary that Qantas have taken this action to ground their fleet. Once you ground a fleet it’s not as simple as just flicking the switch on, also. But that is a decision that they have made. The Government has responded to that decision. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:         Can I just ask you one more question-

ALBANESE:             Yep.

JOURNALIST:         Mr Joyce has said that the reason that they’ve grounded the flights is because of the fact that all this union industrial action is costing the airline so much money. Do you agree with the motivation about what he is saying? Or do you think there’s something else going on?

ALBANESE:             Well I think people will need to examine these issues over a period of time and we’ll wait and see. Certainly it’s the case that given that the Government was given no advance notification of this action then the Government will be looking at all of the issues involved. But I think it is certainly a breach of faith with the Government, the fact that there was no advance notice of this action being taken by Qantas and I indicated that very clearly to Mr Joyce this afternoon.

Thank you.